Route 47 – Shoreditch to Downham (unofficial Routemaster route.)
I was in Shoreditch today (15th August 2017) and thought to myself, its time for the next post in the London Bus route series. And that’s the 47! This was worked by a small number of Routemasters from Catford Garage that complemented its Leyland Titans where possible. Those Routemasters were in fact allocated to the 36a/b routes, however if there was any spares besides possible call outs for more buses on the 36 routes, a Routemaster or two might find instead find a duty on the 47.
The 47 was NOT a recognised Routemaster operated bus route. It was an official crewed Leyland Titan operated route. Availability and vehicle duty allocation at Catford garage determined whether any Routemasters could be spared for the 47 route – especially if a Leyland Titan or two short. A handful of these RM duties were extras. Interestingly London Bus Route Histories denotes the 47 as a full Leyland Titan operation from April 1985 and that is what it was. Thus barely anyone’s documented the fact Routematers were used on it too – with one quirk. These were used mornings only on Mondays to Fridays.
Some will assert Routemasters were in fact used on the 47. Yes that is right but only as a through route to Bromley. From 28th September 1984 it became a fully operated Titan route with allocations from both Catford and Bromley. From 27th April 1985 it was withdrawn south of Downham, thus the duties were entirely to Catford’s Leyland Titans as a crew operated route and that allocation sometimes fell short. Hence Routemasters were used on the newly truncated route from time to time and this is how the 47 managed to see its final days out as a crewed bus route – with Routemasters of course!
There were two quirks to this route. The first was that any Routemasters that did happen to make an appearance did so only in the mornings with buses usually finishing their duties after the morning peak, save that one or possibly two might be required to work until later in the mornings. The other quirk was any Routemasters allocated to the 47 worked only between Shoreditch and Lewisham or Catford. It was an almost total rarity (perhaps just a handful of occasions per week) for a Routemaster to be allocated a duty beyond Catford garage to the route’s terminus at Downham (Bromley Road.)
This post begins, not with buses but a cafe! It’s Syd’s Cafe. This was a favourite with the drivers and conductors on the 47 route. In those days buses on the 35 and 47 routes t line up behind the cafe and many of the crews’ drivers and conductors would be seen about the cafe enjoying a well earned break.
Syd’s cafe at Shoreditch.
Syd’s cafe – looking east. Buses on the 47 route would have been queued up behind the cafe!
And now, its on to the 47!
I used to live a few minutes walk from Calvert Avenue and Shoreditch had an amazing collection of Routemaster operated routes. Sadly the powers that be decided to kill half of these routes (including the 35) on the same miserable day, 24th October 1986.
Once again the pictures are scanned from the many photo books I collated on the final days of many of London’s Routemaster bus routes.
RM474 on the 47, with one of the route’s Leyland Titans in front. Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch. The Routemaster in fact broke down upon arrival at Shoreditch. It spent a good few hours languishing here waiting for assistance from Catford garage.
If one looks at the picture above carefully, evidence of the area’s former specialty in selling/making footwear can be seen. I think the last footwear specialists closed about 2004 or 2005. The area’s other specialties included haberdashery, furniture/upholstery and ironmongery. All these have gone too.
Since 1984 the 47 had been a Leyland Titan operated route with conductors (contrary to what some sites claim.) 26 buses were allocated from Catford Garage (prior to 1985 it was Bromley garage.) The full transfer to Catford in 1985 meant Routemasters were once again unofficially seen on the 47. It wasn’t a regular occurrence, and if it did happen that was mainly in the mornings when the usual Titan allocation was a bit tight.
Fortunately the last three days of crew operation on the 47 saw Routemasters sent out on duty too. For example on 22nd October 1986, RM’s 408, 436, 696, 1049 and 2159 were sent out on the 47 in the morning with all having been returned to Catford garage by 12.50pm.
These Routemasters were dedicated to working solely the Shoreditch to Lewisham or Catford turns. Any that managed to work the full route to Downham was almost one purely by chance – especially as it was just a mile and a bit extra south of Catford Garage. It didn’t matter too much because the 36b to Grove Park covered that section better than the 47 ever could and there were buses on other routes that covered the section too including new bus route 47A.
RM708 at Calvert Avenue, Shoreditch. The crew had just been given RM708 because their other bus, RM474, had broke down. The crew who drove RM708 to Shoreditch were transferred to the Titan behind to continue their duties.
I got to know the driver and conductor of RM708, and whom worked the 47 on its final few days. They informed me which RM’s were out and where they would be going, and also inform me of any rosters that might possibly permit a Routemaster to undertake a full trip to Downham before being returned to Catford garage. That of course relied on those buses keeping time – and it too depended on whether the bus inspectors were in a good mood or not! Hence it was a rare sight seeing a Routemaster on the 47 at Downham!
In those final few days, on 22nd October 1986 Routemaster RM436 managed the journey from Shoreditch to Downham Way at the end of it’s morning duty before returning to Catford at 12.50pm. The next day RM474 managed it too and was the last ever RM to operate the 47 south of Catford garage.
That means the appropriately numbered RM474 achieved a last ever full turn of duty by a Routemaster bus on the 47 from Shoreditch to Downham and back.
Any other Downham workings on those two days were achieved by Catford Garage’s Leyland Titans including ALL the Downham duties from mid morning on the 23rd October 1986 after that undertaken by RM474.
All pics are 22 October 1986. Top: RM436 stabled at Catford after it’s run to Downham. Middle: Proof of the pudding! RM436 seen at Downham Way, about to return to Catford garage. Bottom: RM696 at Catford after a trip from Shoreditch. All the Titans seen in the pictures were part of the 26 buses allocated to the 47.
Top: RM491 at Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, en route to Calvert Avenue. Bottom: RM474 at Liverpool Street. 23 October 1986.
Just half an hour or so later I would photograph 474 at London Bridge on the last ever 47 Routemaster working from Shoreditch to Downham.
The 47’s took an unusual route to their Shoreditch terminus which is no longer used by any London bus routes. This was left into Great Eastern Street, right into Holywell Lane, straight across Shoreditch High Street and into Bethnal Green Road. Then left into Club Row, round the bottom of Arnold Circus and into Calvert Avenue. Part of the route was also used by the 8, 8a, as well as the 9 and 11 on extended journeys to Cambridge Heath (Ash Grove) except these continued along Bethnal Green Road.
The present day 135 and 205 use Holywell Lane itself to gain a right turn into Shoreditch High Street (and thus Bishopsgate) because right turns into Bishopsgate are not allowed from Great Eastern Street.
These are all of RM708. That (top right) shows the very bus crew who were helpful in giving details on which RM’s would be out on the 47 and the turns the crews would be operating. One of the 47’s Leyland Titans can be seen behind RM708.
The 47 had a quirk in its route at Deptford. Buses generally used Deptford High Street, except on market days when it ran via Deptford Church Street. Nowadays it runs via the latter at all times. The 47 today takes a long detour via Canada Water and no longer provides a direct route between Jamaica Road/Rotherhithe and Deptford.
On the morning of 23 October 1986 I took this picture on London Bridge of a very tatty looking RM474, the final Routemaster to work the full 47 route to Downham.
(Note: Downham continued to be an occasional turn back point for a further three years by RM’s working the 36b bus route to Grove Park.)
RM474 is seen here broke down at Shoreditch after having completed the last ever RM duty to Downham Way and back.
Upon having returned from Downham to Shoreditch RM474 promptly broke down! RM474’s failure certainly disgraced the bus itself. No more Routemaster journeys on the 47 were undertaken as far as Downham.
The crew of RM474 were given RM708 (which explains the picture seen earlier) whilst the crew of RM708 who had just arrived at Shoreditch were instead given a Titan for the remainder of their last day of duty on the 47! This Titan can be seen parked behind RM708 in that picture.
On the last day, 24th October 1986, almost the entire duties were covered by the Titans. Just three of Catford’s Routemasters managed to get onto the route including RM688 and RM973 working from Shoreditch to Lewisham Riverdale Centre and Catford Garage only.
Newly painted RM688, one of the last Routemasters on the 47 route at rest in Calvert Avenue before working to Lewisham (Riverdale Centre.) 24 October 1986. It would continue work on the 36 a/b group of routes for another three more years.
RM973 at Norton Folgate on the last trip, the 47’s final day as a conductor operated route. 24 October 1986.
From 25th October 1986, Leyland Titans continued to work the 47, without conductors of course. In 1988 the section from Catford Garage to Downham was withdrawn.